Legislative Update – May 3, 2022
The start of May brings the legislature’s final deadline closer—and that’s without deals on priority spending items including taxes, healthcare, and agriculture. For people who want to see the legislature use the historic surplus to help Minnesotan’s recover from the drought, expand processing, make healthcare more affordable, or help address rising cost, this highlights the urgent need for action.
That’s because the Governor and legislative leadership have said they will not call the legislature back into overtime to strike a final deal, as has been the case in years past. At midnight on Monday, May 23—deal or no deal—lawmakers are expected to return home to make their case to voters ahead of the November election.
That said, there’s reason to believe the legislature is building momentum and goodwill. On Thursday, House and Senate leadership announced a deal to replenish the unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund and provide “hero checks” to healthcare, food service, home care, manufacturing, and other workers who served in roles that put them and their families at risk for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. This follows months of negotiations throughout session, allocates the remainder of the $1.1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, and takes a bit out of the state’s $9.25 billion budget surplus.
The final deal allocates $2.7 billion to the trust fund, averting mandatory tax increases on around 130 thousand businesses. Unfortunately, the deal wasn’t reached in time for the state to reissue all bills to businesses, so the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will have to work out a plan to reimburse or credit businesses who overpaid.
The $500 million in direct payments to frontline workers, is smaller than the $1 billion proposed by the House DFL, but larger than the $250 million allocated for payments last session. The money will come as $750 checks to frontline workers who meet certain income requirements. The frontline sectors included in the bill can be found here.
The broadly bipartisan deal was signed into law by Governor Walz immediately upon passage. Only six lawmakers voted against the proposal.
While that reflects a win for many families and business—including MFU members—there is much work left to do against an impending deadline.
First and foremost, the legislature has still yet to approve a drought relief package, now well over six months after it was first proposed by Governor Walz. After the House passed Chair Mike Sundin’s (DFL-Esko) bill on March 10 and the Senate followed suit on March 31, passing a version led by Chair Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake). Despite largely aligned provisions for agriculture, these the chairs have made little public progress to develop a compromise proposal.
Only one formal conference committee hearing has been held, with the gavel now in the hands of the Senate.
The main and significant different between the two proposals remains the $13 million the House included for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to replenish tree stocks and help with well remediation. These provisions were championed by House Environment Chair Rick Hansen (DFL-South Saint Paul) who also serves on the drought conference committee.
MFU continues to get calls from members who are waiting for this relief. Members can also contact members of the conference committee to urge them to get a deal done:
- Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake)
- Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne)
- Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia)
- Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls)
- Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Audubon)
- Chair Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko)
- Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center)
- Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South Saint Paul)
- Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls)
- Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck)
Similar to drought relief, the deals on taxes, agriculture, and other jurisdictions are as of yet out of reach. The legislature will need to start developing consensus proposals quickly, because even the three short weeks until the end of session can seem misleading. Deals can’t be struck in the final hours, because staff attorneys need time to put complex proposals into bills that can be passed off the floor. All of this takes time, making the real deadline close at hand.